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Blueprint of Interventions for an At-Risk Urban Elementary School


A Blueprint of Interventions for an At-Risk Urban School

by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Fall 2014

The past few years I’ve written the back to school article for our suburban IRA newsletter. The article has usually been on a single topic that would help teachers get off to a good start the new school year. I’m going to expand the scope of this year’s article considerably. I’m going to write on the topic of interventions that would help a low scoring urban school improve improve the ability of their students to read and write. The audience for this piece will not just include suburban IRA members. It will also include the staff and administration at my new building, which is an urban school with a large number of students scoring very low on reading achievement tests. As the reading specialist for the building, I will have a major role in implementing the building’s literacy project. Comment and insight from all readers about this blueprint would be appreciated. This is meant to be a working document subject to revision in order to create a possible school literacy program this year. I hope my IRA readers will be able to glean a number of good ideas to use in order to get off to another good start this year. I hope the teachers in my building will see a big picture emerge as to why we will be doing the in-service work we will be doing. I also hope they will make suggestions as to what other things we should be doing.

My Background. To give you a little background about myself, I have been teaching since 1970 and have been teaching reading since 1977. This includes university teaching and teaching as a reading specialist in some very successful title one programs. I also had the good fortune to also get trained in reading recovery and to take part in several years of training in reading and writing workshop designed by Lucy Calkins (Teachers College Columbia). Some of the trainers included Isoke Nia and Katie Wood Ray.

My Philosophy. My philosophy about how to teach reading was deeply influenced by a group of studies known as the first grade studies (Readence & Barone, 1998). This landmark study was a meta-analysis of research about various ways to teach beginning reading. The study had several important conclusions. The study found that no one approach worked best. Every approach worked better when a phonics supplement was used. Overall, teachers accounted for more of the variance in student achievement scores than any particular approach. Simply put, good teachers tended to get good results regardless of which method they used. In designing my interventions, I looked for things that allow me to help teachers differentiate instruction. I looked for things that allow me to empower teachers. I looked for things that will allow me to help my teachers differentiate reading instruction ( i.e. ,find the particular methods that work for particular children). Most importantly I look for ways of organizing instruction that provide teachers a reasonable chance to provide such differentiation.

 The Interventions:

Intervention One: Reading and Writing workshop including a strong component of student conferencing within the workshop structures.

Intervention Two: Teaching students strategies for both comprehension and word recognition. The focus is teaching students how to think (process) rather than what to think (specific content).

Intervention Three: Word Work designed to teach sound symbol relationships both inductively and deductively. Part of this word work includes how to teach sight vocabulary through the use of predictable text. Overall the emphasis is on teaching sound symbol relationships in context rather than isolation.

Intervention Four: Wide reading: Students do recreational reading in texts that are both interesting to them and at their instructional level.

Intervention Five: Data driven instruction. Sources of data include data from district tests, data from the Raz- Kids program and informal data collected by teachers.

I will now talk about each of these interventions including materials and methods I will use in order to help the teachers in my building implement the intervention.

Intervention One: Reading and Writing workshop, including a strong component of student conferencing within the workshop structures.

Reading workshop should use guided reading as its fundamental structure. Fountas and Pinnell have two excellent texts that serve as important references for implementing reading workshop. The older of the two is Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). The newer one is Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency: Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading, K-8 Fountas & Pinnell, 2006).  I believe the second book reflects a more workshop like approach to guided reading. I did my summer Institute with Calkins after Pinnell visited Teachers College Columbia. As I look over the newer book, which was written after that visit, conferencing takes on a more important role than it did in the earlier version. Listening to Pinnell speak at workshops since her visit to Teachers College, it was apparent to me she was genuinely concerned about using good literature within the structure of guided reading.

Three highlights for beginning the implementation of guided reading is as follows:

  1. The first is to assure that literacy centers are established. These centers should be differentiated when appropriate and should include authentic literacy tasks related to strategies being learned within that week’s reading. Books I will use assist teachers in creating and managing centers are Literacy Centers in Photographs: A Step-by-Step Guide in Photos That Shows How to Organize Literacy Centers, Establish Routines, and Manage Center-Based Learning All Year Long (Campo, 2008) and Literacy Work Stations: Making Centers Work (Diller, 2003). These books together should help teachers learn how to create and manage literacy centers and also help them with the notion of why such centers are important.
  2. There are a number of well known books about how to carry out writing workshop, Calkins (1994), Fletcher & Portalupi, 2001, Ray & Laminick (2001).   However the ones I’ll be using with the staff are Living and Teaching the Writing Workshop (Painter, 2006), and Launching the Writing Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide in Photographs (Leograndis, 2008).  I choose the former because its author was in charge of one of the Title 1 programs I worked in and as Ralph Fletcher indicates in her forward, she is easily understood and conversational in her writing style. I choose the later because it gives many practical ideas about workshop and does so through the use of very effective pictures.
  3. Finally, How’s it Going (Anderson, 2000) will provide the vehicle by which I will teach my staff about conferencing. Two notions that I hope to include is that conferencing can be an important teaching tool and can be used to inform future lesson plans. These are two points that were consistently made by Calkin’s cadre during my workshop training.

I will consider the next two interventions concurrently:

Intervention two: Teaching students strategies for both comprehension and word recognition. The focus is teaching students how to think (process) rather than what to think (specific content).

Intervention three: Word Work designed to teach sound symbol relationships both inductively and deductively. Part of this word work will be to teach sight vocabulary through the use of predictable text. Overall the emphasis will be teaching sound symbol relationships in context rather than isolation.

There are two landmark articles that have greatly influenced my teaching of reading. The first of these is by Goodman’(1967). His article, Reading a Psycholinguistic Guessing Game was based in part, on the notion that there are three cueing systems used by readers to decode text. He called them semantics, grapho-phonemic and syntax . At a mid-Missouri tall conference Goodman’s wife Yetta indicated that Marie Clay came to similar conclusions about the existence of three cueing systems. Her name for them was meaning, visual, and structure. Our district uses Clay’s terms.

While recognizing this notion about cueing systems has some critics, I’ve found teaching in a way that promotes the use of all three cueing systems and that encourages readers to cross check those cues does remarkably improve students reading ability. Fountas & Pinnell (1996) p.161, list the basic prompts used to encourage students to use all three cueing systems. These prompts include “ does it look right, does it sounds right, and does it makes sense.” It is important that such prompts be done near point of error, not at point of error. Doing it this way gives the student the opportunity to figure out what cueing system to use and to try it out. Near point of error prompting provides the ultimate in teachable moments. My building is small enough that I will have time to push in to each teacher’s classroom for about 40 minutes each day. I will be modeling this form of prompting for staff. I will use the “gradual release of responsibility” framework: first showing them, then working with them and eventually turning things over for them to do on their own.

A concern that is often raised by classroom teachers when I talk about prompting near point of error is that they can never have the time to listen to students one-on-one. However, there is a teaching method that lets teacher complete their small group reading while at the same time getting in those needed individual reading times. This method was part of my training by the Missouri Reading Initiative. I call it “a staggered start.” It is most often used at the very beginning levels (A-F) and goes as follows.

o   First do a picture walk. Then let the students know each is going to read the entire passage.

o   Each student starts reading orally  at a different time. Eventually everyone  is reading orally.

o   Some students will finish before others. All students are instructed that when they finish they should start over and read it again (and again, and again).

o   Obviously you train the students to read softly. Now you see why I call it a staggered start.

Everyone’s is now reading the story and remember they are each in a different spot in the story. During this time, the teacher can lean in and listen to one or two students. This gives the teacher a real chance to do prompting near point of error, or running records. or simply observing the child in their reading habits. The teacher should not stop the reading until each child has read through the text at least once. They can then stop the students at whatever place they are in the story. On some days teachers might let all the children read through more than once so they can work with individual children.

Once the read aloud part is over, the rest of the lesson goes as normal. I do not recommend staggered starts for every read. However using staggered starts some of the time does give teachers the option to do some actual prompting near point of error while at the same time getting their small group reading completed.

I often use Fountas and Pinnell “keep books” for the very beginning lessons. They are very low cost (as little as 25 cents a book). They are available from Ohio State University. The url information on buying “keep books” is available from Ohio State University. The url is http://www.keepbooks.org/catalog1.html. They are written for levels 1-16. At the lowest levels they have clear picture clues built around predictable text. Using them makes it really easy to teach cross-checking (pictures and letters together!) It is important that teachers learn that with the exception of phonetically irregular words, they should give the students a chance to work their own words out. Also, if students are missing more than one out of every 10 words (i.e. less than 90% accuracy) they are likely in text that is too hard for them to decode. Levels should be adjusted accordingly. On the other side of the spectrum, when students start missing only one in 20 words, it is likely time to bump them up a level IF comprehension is acceptable. In a very real way, using “keep books” in a staggered start gives an ongoing assessment of whether or not the students are reading a book at a level where they can decode.

By using “keep books,” which are low-cost and plentiful, it is possible to let the students keep the books they’ve completed in a bag rereading both individually and with a partner. Wide reading of such predictable text is in my opinion the very best way to quickly develop a large sight vocabulary. I hold the point of view that learning words in the context of a real story results in retention rates of 70% or more. By contrast, teaching words with flashcards usually results in a retention rate of 5%.

Word workstations are used along with “keep books,” the use of onset rhyme making and breaking, and word ladders. The book of lists provides a good list of the most used rhymes. Dr. Tim Rasinski, a Hall of Fame reading professor and former IRA president, has an excellent website with many free materials. Among them are word ladders that teachers can download for free; the link is http://timrasinski.com/?page=presentations. The word ladders pdf is the last one on the page.

After pushing in to my assigned grades I will have to do pull out of selected individual/groups. One of the things I will use with older readers with exceptionally weak decoding skills is Retrospective Miscue Analysis. This method was developed by Yetta Goodman who along with her husband Ken did the foundational work in miscue analysis (Brown, Goodman and Marek, 1996). Her work has greatly influenced educators using miscue analysis. This includes the work of Marie Clay, who created the MSV analysis used in our district. I’ve found that retrospective miscue analysis can often reach older readers for whom no other interventions have worked. The book I will be using to guide me is The Essential RMA (Goodman, Martens & Flurkey, 2014).

Intervention two (cont): Comprehension strategies

The other article that has influenced my teaching was written by P David Pearson. It was another landmark article. Several important ideas came from it. First the idea that comprehension can and should be taught. Durkin’s studies at the time showed that it was not being taught. He argued that comprehension strategies can be taught. Again this fits in with the idea of teaching students how to think (process), rather than what to think (product/content). Pearson identified several key strategies that should be taught.

It is important that teachers understand that their job as a reading teacher is to demonstrate and model effective strategies(I do), then give the students a chance to use  strategies with help (we do), and finally help the students reached the stage where they can use those strategies on their own (you do). Pearson’s name for this was the “gradual release of responsibility.” Gradual release of responsibility is the cornerstone of what is often called “scaffolding.

One of the questions the cadre from Lucy Calkens often asked us as they trained us in workshop was what work are you leaving for the student and why? That question is useful whether teaching a comprehension strategy, a word recognition strategy, or a writing strategy. In all cases the teaching process is very similar. The teacher at some point does a clear concise lesson explaining the strategy (I do). Then the teacher provides opportunities for the student to try out the strategy with assistance from the teacher (we do). Finally the students reaches the stage where they can use the strategy on their own (you do).

In order to help teachers see that the key focus of many workshop lessons centers around particular strategies, I’m going to encourage the use of anchor charts at the time of instruction.  But these are also important for students to use when they are doing their work with help or independently.

We will use both the Pinnell’s guided reading books as a source for comprehension strategies and we will also use the book Strategies That Work: 2nd edition (Harvey & Goudvis ,2007).

Intervention four: Wide reading, Students will do recreational reading in texts that are both interesting to them and at their instructional level.

In my years of working with students and at-risk buildings one of the things I’ve observed most often is that the students who need wide reading the most are the ones most likely to be doing it. It is essential that students recreational reading be done using material that is both very interesting and at a level they can decode independently. Often times, putting them in material that they can actually decode leads to older students being in material that is not just uninteresting but sometimes simply inappropriate because it is too juvenile. One resource we will use is the Raz Kids program. Raz Kids is an online reading program includes more than 1000 leveled books in multiple genres and formats. There is a good balance between fiction and nonfiction books and there are books at the lowest levels that are content appropriate for older readers.

I alluded earlier to the fact that Pinnell and many many other educators have begun to see the importance of using really good children’s literature. During an in-service, Katie Wood Ray told us that as a writer you are what you read. The intent to use Raz Kids is not as a replacement for reading good literature but rather as a vehicle to get the amount of wide reading needed to develop extensive sight vocabulary students need to handle some of the more complex text. I’m also taking care to get easier to read authors into the upper grade classroom libraries so that there are additional options for students to do wide reading

Intervention five: Data driven instruction. Sources of data include data from district test, data from the Raz- Kids program and informal data collected by teachers.

I am one of those educators who believes that we currently over testing and under teaching. I do recognize the importance of collecting data that demonstrates students are achieving. However it is important limit the time spent in such endeavors to a more reasonable amount. It is also important that the instruments used to test, measure what they say they are measuring.

One of the ways I try to avoid at least some of the over testing is to do as much of the ongoing assessment as possible as a natural part of the instruction rather than eating into instruction time with unnecessary tests. I’ve developed a simple seating chart form that allows my teachers take informal notes while they are teaching (the link to the folder with that chart is https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B4ZI3GjZTMN4UGFIY2VTWk81eWs&usp=sharing).  Part of what I will be doing as I do demonstration lessons during my daily teaching with them will be to show them the kind of reading behaviors ( both comprehension behaviors and word recognition behaviors) that it pays jot down. For instance if a student is consistently guessing at words from text based on only the first letter, that is important information. It also suggests possible prompts or other teachings that can encourage them use all parts of word before they decide on what word is. In addition to these ongoing notes, Raz Kids provides extensive information on the kind of reading comprehension skills students have or have not mastered. This information is collected automatically by the Raz Kids program. That means it is part of an ongoing assessment that does not detract or take away from teaching time.

Of course the district mandates periodic testing. These tests can be used to inform placement in the reading groups. But such results can and should be tempered by the ongoing data collected by the teacher.

I hope some of the specific materials and some of the methodologies talked about in this article will help you as you start out the new year. Thank you for taking the time to read over these ideas. As I said at the outset I would welcome input on additions or changes that you think might also help to improve our students reading and writing. Please respond on the St. Louis Suburban IRA website or write me directly at sam.bommarito.2@gmail.com. Be sure to include the words IRA article in the subject of your e-mail.

An annotated bibliography of the articles and books referenced in this article can be found in a folder at the following link


Web Wonders: September 2014


WEB WONDERS: Back from the Summer Slide

Mary-Eileen Rufkahr

The summer slide is not the latest ride at the local amusement park, but a brain lull students often fall into during summer vacation. As the students march back into the classrooms, perk up their brains with a review that is sure to keep them interested and engaged. For a review of ABC order, go to Tugboat Alphabet on PrimaryGames.com. Students can earn the power to tug a boat by selecting the letter that comes first in the alphabet. http://www.primarygames.com/langarts/tugboatalphabet/.

Sheppard Software’s Comma Chameleon boasts eyepopping graphics as it assists older elementary level students with correct punctuation usage. From periods to semi-colons, students are given a chance to insert the correct mark at the proper place in the sentence. After each sentence, a quick review of punctuation usage is presented. http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/grammar/punctuation.html.

Students (recommended ages 7 through 13) and teachers can sign up to belong to the free Dr. Goodword’s Word Wizard Club. Once you are part of the club you will have access to the reference shelf, Miss Spelling’s Center, the game closet and puzzle challenges which review basic phonics concepts. http://www.alphadictionary.com/ww/.

Upper elementary and high school level students will find the content on Grammar Monster very helpful. Punctuation (apostrophes, colons, commas, dashes, hyphens, parentheses, speech marks), the eight parts of speech, common mistakes and the daily grammar tip are a few of the features on this site.http://www.grammar-monster.com/.

The old saying you can disagree with someone without being disagreeable comes to life for students in the Debate Game for Kids. Students “face off” with their computer opponent on a variety of issues relevant to them: summer vacation, school uniforms, eating potato chips for dinner. The student is given a selection of alternative viewpoints from what their opponent has stated. The student then picks the best counter-point to their computer opponent. Judges vote on who had the most persuasive argument. http://www.funenglishgames.com/writinggames/debate.html

Message From The President: September 2014



Recipient of the Honor Council & Show Me Awards

Message from the President

Happy New Year! Those of us involved in the education field ( i.e., students, teachers, administrators) understand the significance of that greeting at this particular time of the year.  For those of us who have returned to the classroom it is a new year. Students come in with fresh notebooks, newly sharpened pencils and a rekindled eagerness to learn. As teachers we are ready to start out the semester implementing lessons using a balance of the “tried and true,” coupled with additional concepts we learned about over our break.

For the past several months, our board has met and planned a series of meetings and events to assist all of our membership in becoming “master teachers to the core.” During this school year we will be hosting speakers who will touch on many subjects, ranging from the Common Core Standards to finding ways to reach deep inside of yourself, to your core, and become the master teacher you truly are!  An educator’s day is a long one and time is at a premium. That being said, I encourage you to look at our calendar of upcoming events and make it a point to attend as many of our meetings as you are able to. I guarantee you will come away with new ideas to implement into your daily teaching routine. When you attend one of our events this year, make it a goal to bring along someone who has yet to join our organization. Mentoring and networking are such a valuable part of an educator’s career path. If you know an education major or a pre-service teacher, most definitely introduce them to the St. Louis Suburban Council.  A student membership is extremely valuable to someone beginning their education career.   Many years ago, my professor, Dr. Ella Jones, was responsible for bringing me to my first meeting!

Inside our newsletter is a registration form for our first meeting, on September 18, with Cellie Scoggin of the Master Teacher/Bailey Educational Group. Also, you will find information on the Literacy for All Conference: The Community Reads, October 11, at Harris-Stowe State University. Make it your new year’s resolution to attend both events!

Mary Eileen Rufkahr

Community Service Projects: 2014-2015



Sandy Kettlekamp

Your involvement is needed! Listed below are the various community and global service projects the St.Louis Suburban Council has undertaken this year.

• Penny-A-Page

• Habitat for Humanity

• Global Literacy

• Can Tabs

For information about each of these projects, go to http://www.stlsuburbanreading.org.  Encourage your school to be involved in the Penny-A-Page Project. Continue to save children and adult books and bring them to our meetings.  You can call and deliver them to Sandy Kettelkamp (314.638.3214) directly. Donate to the Philippines Project when the cup is passed.  Every dollar counts. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, too. Collect can tabs at your buildings, from your friends, family, and from neighbors. Bring them to the meetings!

Voices From The Library: September 2014



Lucy Crown

Title: The Mighty Miss Malone; Author: Christopher Paul Curtis; Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House); Copyright: 2012; ISBN: 978-0-385-90487; Interest Level: 3rd -6th; Reading Level: 9-12

Each school year, I have my 4th and 5th grade students participate in the Mark Twain Award. One of the books on the award nominee list this year is The Mighty Miss Malone by Newbery Medal-winning author Christopher Paul Curtis.  It is a story about a twelve year old girl, Deza Malone (you may remember her from the book, Bud, Not Buddy) and the struggles that she and her family endure during the Great Depression. They are a close knit family whose motto is “We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.” Deza is the smartest student in her class and her brother Jimmie, has a gifted singing voice.  Their parents do what they can to support the family, but their father cannot find work. He leaves for Flint, Michigan in hopes of finding a job, but the family never hears from him again.  They set out to find him and a series of events unfold that lead to a happy ending.  Fans of Christopher Paul Curtis will not be disappointed.  I would recommend this book as a supplemental read aloud for students while studying the Great Depression and/or African-American history.

Literacy for All Conference: October 11, 2014


2014 Literacy for All Conference

Saturday, October 11, 2013

Betty Porter Walls

Mark your calendars for the next “Literacy for All Conference: The Community Reads” on Saturday, October 11. St. Louis Suburban IRA is excited to once again join Harris-Stowe State University in sponsoring this all-day, 8:00-3:00 p.m., professional development experience for pre-school thru grade 12 educators. Join us for informative research-based literacy/language arts sessions presented by experienced educators including keynote speakers Lester Laminack and Melia Franklin.  For more information about this conference, go to http://www.stlsuburbanreading.org/. The conference registration form is due September 26,2014.

St. Louis Suburban IRA/MSC Poster Contest: 2014 2015



Kathleen McDonnell

The St. Louis Suburban IRA will be holding a reading poster contest again this year. Please encourage your students to participate. The final judging will take place during our February 18, 2015 general meeting.  All members will be asked to participate in the judging. The winners in the four categories will be sent to the MSC/IRA meeting to be judged.  Here is the website for further information:www.missourireading.org/recognition/contests.  The theme for this year is: “Master Teachers to the Core.”

Legislative Update September 2014


Legislative Update
Mary Eileen Rufkahr
The Missouri House adjourned for the summer break on May 30, 2014.  The veto session will begin on September 10, 2014. During this session, there were a great number of bills of interest to educators. To see what education-related bills passed and which ones didn’t, check out the legislative site at: http://www.stlsuburbanreading.org/about/legislativereport/. There you will also find an update on Governor Nixon’s June 24th action on the FY15 state budget.

Message from the President: April 2014


St. Louis Suburban Council
of the
Recipient of the Honor Council & Show Me Awards
Message from the President

As you are reading this, spring has finally arrived. As a person whose favorite seasons are spring and summer, I could not be more pleased. While it may be fun to curl up with a good book by the fire on a winter’s night, I would MUCH rather be on a beach or in a garden with the smell of fresh mowed grass wafting through the air and flowers budding around me enjoying a good read.

Speaking of spring, your Executive Board has been planning feverishly for a very FUN Spring Banquet/General Meeting coming up on April 30. We will be welcoming author Linda Nowak to St. Louis, so mark your calendars! The banquet will once again be held at Ladue Middle School, and there will be lots of surprises (let’s just say this won’t be your “typical” banquet!). We encourage you to invite your friends and colleagues to the banquet even if they are not members. What a way to get to know more about the St. Louis Suburban Council of the IRA. We’ll also be giving out special door prizes, and Linda Nowak’s books will be for sale, so that you can add them to your classroom or personal library. Remember, the registration form is near the back of this newsletter so fill it out, and get it in to Jody Rozbicki, membership chair, as soon as possible. We would like the room to be overflowing!

I am reminded that as spring has officially “sprung,” this gives each of us an opportunity to think about the kinds of books we are selecting for our students to read as well as for ourselves. What books do you like to read to celebrate the arrival of spring? Whatever you choose, let’s strive to do our best to encourage strong readers and a LOVE of reading!

Mitzi Brammer, Ph.D., President


Professional Development for Close Reading: April 2014


How Do You Bring the Leading National Experts on “Close Reading” to Your School?

By Dan Rocchio, Ed. D.

Professor Emeritus

Adjunct Faculty

Maryville University


A Step-by-Step Guide for Helping Teachers Implement the Close Reading of Complex Texts

 In 2012 I wrote an article for the Suburban IRA Newsletter that highlighted practical strategies for implementing the common core standards at the elementary grade levels.  In that article I summarized a model for the “close reading process of complex text” developed by Fisher, Frey and Lapp ( 2012) in a text titled Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading.  Additional depth was provided by articles and videos (Principal Leadership, 2012a and 2012 b).  But this latest text, Rigorous Reading: 5 Access Points for Comprehending Complex Texts (Fisher & Frey, 2013) brings the work of the authors “up close and personal.”  Specifically this book provides numerous videos of elementary and secondary grade level classrooms along with a step-by-step “Professional Learning Guide.”  If your school is implementing this critical instructional component of CCSS-ELA, please consider this resource.

The Videos Bring Life to the Text?

The videos provide authentic classroom examples that clarify the five access points for comprehending complex texts laid out in the text.  The videos show teachers how to

·      model reading strategies and set purposes for reading

·      conduct “close reading” and “scaffolded reading” lessons

·      conduct collaborative conversations with complex texts

·      help students evolve into the independent reading of complex texts

·      develop assessments for complex texts

Strengths of the Videos and the Text

The authors have selected videos that follow the model of close reading set out in their earlier text (Fisher, Frey and Lapp, 2012).  Close reading involves the deep critical comprehension of short complex passages or short passages within longer texts ( e.g., novels, primary source documents).  Fisher and Frey carefully explain when we should use close reading.   According to the authors close reading requires one to read with a pencil or annotate the text, reread to clarify confusing parts and finally to write or talk about our deep understanding of the text.  The teaching steps include the following:

·      the teacher establishes a brief purpose for reading the text but does not provide a summary of the text nor background information that might take away from the student’s struggle to make sense of the text; in some cases brief background information may be necessary for students to be successful with the an initial reading of the text

·      students read the text independently and note words they figured out on their own or ideas that confused them; the teacher carefully observes the difficulties students encounter

·      the first discussion led by the teacher might include the students sharing what amazed and/or confused them

·      using what was learned from the initial discussion, the teacher leads a read aloud and think aloud of the text that models how the teacher figured out main ideas or key vocabulary

·      teacher leads another discussion using text dependent questions that focus on the literal, inferential and critical understanding of the text

·      teacher asks each student to write about the understandings garnered in the prior discussion

Although all the videos do not follow each of the steps noted above, the best video examples of the model ( i.e., see the companion website www.corwin.com/rigorousreading) are annotated below:

·      Video 3.1 is a whole class lesson with 6th graders in a language arts classroom.  The outstanding part of this video shows how a teacher coaches her students on the process of finding the main idea in a short passage after she realizes that they didn’t get it during the first reading.

·      Video 3. 4 is a whole class lesson with upper elementary language arts students during a unit on inventions.  This teacher does an outstanding job in these areas:

o   coaching children back into a second and third reading of the text to clarify key ideas

o   displaying a clear and efficient system for annotating the text

o   developing an authentic, high level formative assessment over several lessons

Why Are These Videos A Better Choice for Professional Development than Other Video Lessons on Close Reading?

Two other popular sources of video lessons for the close reading of complex texts are listed here:

·      http://www.achievethecore.org/steal-these-tools/close-reading-exemplars

·      http://commoncore.americaachieves.org/

Unfortunately, most of these sample lessons do not include the teacher modeling of reading strategies, or the gradual release of responsibility framework that would eventually help students to read these complex texts independently and proficiently.  The sample lessons along with the “Professional Leaning Guide” in the Fisher and Frey( 2013) text are consistent with best practice and the research related to developing independent learners.

What Additional Step Can Schools and Teachers Take to Achieve the Goal of the Fisher and Frey Text?

As you work through the “Professional Learning Guide” it is imperative that you and your colleagues develop and teach close reading lessons within your classrooms. The teaching of these lessons along with appropriate feedback by literacy coaches, and the data analysis of student work samples can eventually lead to the development of model video-recorded lessons that can be shared among teaches in your district.  As these lessons are developed and refined it is crucial that teachers identify the context for these lessons.  Model lessons can only be used effectively when the developers carefully explain the conditions surrounding the lesson; these would include the key characteristics of the students, the purpose of the lesson in the context of the unit of study, and the social dynamics of the group.

What is the End Goal?

As we work together to tackle the challenges presented by the CCSS-ELA it is important that we keep a sharp focus on the end goal: to help children read, write and talk critically so that they can take part in civil discourse related to key issues (e.g., the development of mental and physical health, a peaceful school, the sustainability of our environment, friendship, equity, preparing oneself for work).  Along with parents it is also our responsibility to help children develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary to work and play as responsible citizens in our democracy.  I welcome responses on this blog or please contact me at drocchio@maryville.edu if you wish further information related to this article.


Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012a).  Text complexity. Principal Leadership. Retrieved July 27, 2012 from


Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012b).  The perils of preteaching. Retrieved July 27, 2012 from


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